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Analysis: The Wearables Landscape and Projections of Future Wearable Development


Wearable medical devices and diagnostics in healthcare are quickly becoming increasingly common, with news articles frequently delving into new wearables and how they might impact patient care. This makes sense, as from 2012 to 2018 wearable medical products in development and under study grew at a 47% annual growth rate, based on the number of clinical trials starting each year from ClinicalTrials.gov.

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In this analysis, we look at the medical wearables category as a whole to extract trends, dissect where current early-stage wearable companies are focusing their innovation efforts, and evaluate market opportunities. This is a continuation of a previous article on medical devices and diagnostics that collect patient objective data, where musculoskeletal and well care analyses both included wearables to determine market over- and under-saturation. I undertook this project because I work with a number of promising early-stage companies in this space and see the potential of data to drive significant improvements in healthcare and create better patient outcomes.

Growth in Wearables Based on Number of Clinical Trials Initiated Per Year

As noted earlier, the number of wearable medical product clinical trials grew 47% per year from 2012 to 2018, according to government data accessed last month. This year’s numbers are on pace to top those of 2018. These numbers do not factor in whether a trial is the first for a new wearable or that product has undergone previous clinical trials. The numbers only include clinical trials listed on ClinicalTrials.gov, so the data set is almost certainly not complete but should be a good representation of the whole.

Despite this promising trend for wearables, the average annual growth rate is not as stratospheric. The growth rate has slowed as the number of trials conducted per year has grown. From 2017 to 2018, the growth rate was a significant 25% — but far from the 47% average growth rate. If the trend continues, this growth rate will continue to slow further, as the medical wearables category grows.

In terms of real numbers, growth continues at a steady pace, with slightly more than 30 additional trials being added each year from 2016 to 2018. Resulting in nearly 100 more wearables clinical trials started in 2018 than in 2015.

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While the general trend is that the medical wearables segment has impressive growth, benchmarking the category against the new clinical trials conducted on sensors is helpful to gain a clearer picture. From 2012 to 2018, the number of new clinical trials conducted on sensors has also grown significantly, seeing 16% annual growth. This uptick was not evenly distributed, as sensor clinical trials had 50% and 41% growth from 2012 to 2013 and 2015 to 2016, respectively. All other years maintained positive growth but were limited to at most 3% per year.

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Despite the greater percentage gains by wearables, the growth in the number of new sensor clinical trials grew by a third more than new clinical trials for wearables.

20122018Total growthAnnual growth rate

While this variable information leads to some difficulty comparing the current state of wearables to the past state of sensors, all indications suggest that it is reasonable to hypothesize that wearables will experience similar growth as sensors did, as long as market conditions remain favorable for company growth and new product development.

Current Wearables in Healthcare

Wearable watches seem to be very popular in the news, especially with all the publicity that the Apple Watch captured during its launch and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance of its electrocardiogram. Despite that, chest wearables are by a significant margin the most common, with wrist wearables and head wearables being the second and third most common, respectively. The vast disparity between chest, head, and wrist wearables, which make up over half of the wearables, and all of the other wearable locations, is starkly apparent in the data. This is not surprising, based on the data that can be collected from each body location.

The significant aggregation of devices toward the most popular methods of data collection appears to leave additional space to innovate for the less-served areas of the body, provided the devices can capture relevant and high-quality data from that body location.

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The type of wearables used to capture data is highly correlated with the location on the body that the wearable is used. Patches applied to the skin account for nearly 30% of all wearables, which makes sense as the majority of chest, back, and stomach wearables are in patch form. Beyond watches, straps that go around specific areas of the body also are very popular. For this analysis, if watches are included in the strap category as a wrist strap, straps would be the most commonly used type of wearable, accounting for 30% of the products in development. The other category is worth noting given how many different types of wearables are used to collect data, creating a sizeable long tail in the types of wearables used. This long tail includes contact lenses and in-ear devices among others.

Thoughts on Wearables

All indications suggest that medical wearables in development will continue growing at a healthy rate, with a declining growth rate by percent but an increasing growth rate by the number of new clinical trials. Over the next six years, it seems plausible that the growth in wearables will resemble that of sensors from 2012 to 2018, under the right conditions.

With the impressive growth in the development of medical wearables, especially those for well care and at-risk patient monitoring intended for acute medical issues, these products will need to demonstrate that they can timely and accurately predict medical problems and that this forewarning results in improved patient outcomes.

About the Author

David Saxner is a consultant at Longfellow Associates where he focuses on earlier stage medical device, diagnostic, and digital health companies. Read his first piece on medical device data collection here.

David Saxner

David Saxner

    David Saxner is a consultant at Longfellow Associates where he focuses on earlier stage medical device, diagnostic, and digital health companies.

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